Review: Jhené Aiko perfectly juxtaposes her triumphant and prideful messages with earthy, mellow and zen percussion, peacefully motivating her listeners
By Mira Sripada (’22)
Jhené Chilambo, best known as Jhené Aiko is an American singer and songwriter born in Los Angeles, California. Aiko began her music career in 2002, appearing in music videos and features. Since then, she has established herself as a talented creator in the RnB scene. In her career, Aiko has debuted three studio albums. In 2014, the singer released Souled Out. Three years later, she dropped Trip. Finally, Aiko released Chilombo, titled after her last name, on March 6, 2020. Aiko has amassed over 9 million followers on Instagram and over 2 million followers on YouTube. Jhené Aiko continues to collaborate with a number of notable R&B artists such as Big Sean.
From the start, Chilombo is an album of tranquility. However, this peacefulness in no way takes away from the ideas Aiko is trying to convey. The first song on the album, “Lotus (intro)”, concisely explains the true intention of the album. Additionally, the vocal performance of Aiko in this song is indicative of the rest of the album. Chilombo is the story of the revival and strengthening of a woman overcoming an undesirable and unwanted relationship, clear through the lyrics “She found her focus/The beat awoken”.
Chilambo, a robust 20-track album, is packed with songs employing a unique juxtaposition between powerful messages and low-key beats. Aiko displays this through the fourth song, “Speak”. “Speak” is driven by the singer’s soothing soprano voice and extended syllables. The peaceful instrumentation further emphasizes the lyrics rather than posing a distraction. Messages of self-love are clear when she sings, ‘I’m putting on my favorite dress/the one you hated”. In addition, the twelfth song, “Born Tired” demonstrates similar characteristics. In this song, listeners can hear a staccato guitar melody that invites Aiko’s audience to take a deep breath and relax. As the track progresses, a consistent airy and atmospheric vibe coats a layer of lyrical motivation: “Look at who you have become/Baby, you gotta keep going’”.
Jhené Aiko continues to impress with collaborations present throughout the album. In the third song, “None of Your Concern (feat. Big Sean)”, Aiko’s sweet and dreamy voice paints across the song, which is underlaid by a woody and gentle piano along with a rhythmic beat. However, the track shines the most during Big Sean’s emotional rant/rap. His deeper voice contrasts the velvety instrumentation, giving listeners a change. Furthermore, perhaps the most satisfying track on the album comes from the collaboration between Aiko and H.E.R.. This song, titled “B.S (feat. H.E.R)”, begins with a mysterious, high-pitched and staccato marimba. The harmonious, prideful and slow vocal performances of H.E.R. and Aiko melt into a bass-heavy percussion, which yields a nearly perfect R&B song. Finally, the most passionate and emotional song on Chilambo is achieved through the partnership between Aiko and John Legend, in the song “Lightning and Thunder (feat. John Legend)”. The booming and gorgeous voices of both artists carry the song to an ethereal state, while the real-life noise of a storm enhances and fills the empty space. An electric guitar and tambourine provide the ‘lightning’ the piece needs to drive the song to its completion.
In addition to the songs mentioned above, listed below are some honorable mentions that contribute to the album’s memorability: “Triggered (freestyle)”, “LOVE”, and “Mourning Doves”.
Jhené Aiko presents Chilambo, a 20-track masterpiece. Particularly on this album, there are no songs that sound out of place or dissatisfactory, earning Chilambo five stars. Aiko uses a resounding and crisp voice to captivate listeners while simultaneously communicating lyrics of deep passion. These opposing forces, when combined with earthy percussion and possibly other artists, yield works of art like the many songs in this album. This body of work will continue to resonate with her listeners because of its uniquely peaceful, tropical and serene nature. Jhené Aiko uses her music to remind listeners to stay calm, stay confident and take a deep breath.